Steelmaking in the Front, Marshes in the Back
Once portioned to LaPorte County and then Porter County, Lake County didn’t become Lake County proper until 1837, over 20 years after Indiana received statehood. Today, with over half a million Hoosiers in residence, Lake County stands as the second-most populated county in the state behind Marion County.
With its odd mix of industry and agriculture, and the obvious influence of Chicago, Lake County is nothing if not eclectic, in culture, in history…and in photos. Enjoy!
Lowell Fire of 1898
After the disastrous fire of 1898, Lowell town officials would replace the wooden structures on Commercial with brick buildings, many of which still stand.
Looking South on Broadway (State Road 53) circa 1906
From 1900 to 1910, Gary, Indiana, transformed from a series of tents pounded into sand dunes to one of the busiest industrial centers in the entire country (sponsored by US Steel). Although long abandoned, many of the fascinating Art Deco architecture of the city’s heyday still stand.
Steel Strike of 1919
After World War I ended, steelworkers across the country organized a massive strike to protest wages and working conditions. After shutting down half the nation’s steel production, plant owners requested federal intervention. The US Army did so, declaring martial law and occupying several cities, including Gary. The above photo shows soldiers bivouacked at Gary’s Commercial Club (formerly located west of Broadway and US-20).
We have to keep the lights on, folks…
Hohman Avenue in Hammond, 1890
Named after George Hammond, the inventor of the refrigerated railcar and owner of the George H. Hammond Company meatpacking plant, the city’s output of fresh meat rivaled even the titans of Chicago. After Hammond’s death in 1886, the city’s meatpacking legacy largely tapered off.
Hobart Library, 1914
In the early 1900s, Lake County’s entire system of libraries largely depended on Gary’s library system, but that ended in the 1950s, when Lake County established its own official system of branches in several cities, headquartered in Merrillville with only 24 employees.
Dillinger’s 1934 Crown Point Escape
Ask about the notorious side of Lake County and John Dillinger’s name always pops up; unfortunately, it is usually because of his infamous 1934 escape from the “escape proof” jail in Crown Point, Indiana. In the above photo, police officers gather outside the jail, awaiting Dillinger’s entrance. He wouldn’t stay there long.
Given the established industrial cities in the north, it’s surprising that much of southern Lake County remained (and remains) in the vague limbo of UNINCORPORATED. In the above photo, Nelson’s Garage served citizens in and around Thayer, Indiana, which eventually became Shelby…or possibly part of Newton County.
Teibel’s Restaurant, 1930s
Taking full advantage of two national highways intersecting at their front door, Teibel’s Restaurant remains a Lake County fixture. When the diner opened in 1929, it had only 12 seats and served sandwiches and (now-famous) fried chicken to the hungry motorists running up and down US-41…and back and forth on US-30.
The Dunes: Indiana’s First National Park
In 2019, Congress transformed the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to the Indiana Dunes National Park. It’s no surprise to Lake County residents, as public enjoyment of the park goes back over a century. In the above photo, taken at Miller Beach circa 1921, bathers pose in front of the Chanute Aquatorium, listed as a National Historic Site for its use of modular concrete construction.
Nike Missile Base in Wheeler
With its close proximity to Chicago as well as containing the steel industry along the lakeshore, Lake County held significant strategic importance during the Cold War. Remnants of that still exist, including this slowly decaying Nike Missile base in Wheeler, Indiana.
Ice Harvesting in Cedar Lake, Early 1900s
Chicago needed ice for just about everything. Meat packing, residential refrigeration and, uh, for its many MANY speakeasies. But decades of industry had tainted the waters of Lake Calumet and even Hammond’s Wolf Lake, causing customers to complain about the heavy stink wafting from the pricey ice. The pristine waters of Cedar Lake became a popular source for clean ice. All winter long, men would tramp over the ice, plunging heavy ice saws through the hauling the near-limitless resource out block by block.